Farmers are being warned of a new rural crimewave after 24 tractor GPS kits were stolen from West Sussex farming businesses in a recent spate of rural crime.

The GPS kits, totalling more than £130,000 were taken from farm businesses in a 10-15 mile radius from late February.

Other farms in the south east have also been targeted, with latest reports of thefts coming in from Oxfordshire.

West Sussex farmer and NFU county chairman Mark Chandler explained that the most serious impact of GPS thefts was the disruption to farming operations.

“It takes about a week to replace a GPS system and get it set up ready for work, and that can mean missing a weather window putting a crop growth cycle at risk,” he said.

“These thefts are part of an ongoing crimewave with farmers feeling they are under siege from criminals ranging from hare coursers and opportunist thefts of tools to high organised gangs stealing expensive equipment.

“Crime is now a constant worry because police response can be very slow – it took 25 minutes for police to get to our farm the last time we were targeted.”

Read more: Half of Devon and Cornwall's farmers have been victims of rural crime

Rebecca Davidson, NFU Mutual rural affairs specialist, said: “Theft of GPS equipment is now a serious problem for farmers.

“We first saw thieves targeting GPS equipment from arable farms in East Anglia and the crime has now spread to other parts of the country. Thieves appear to be targeting farms in one locality, and then moving their activity to another area to avoid detection.

“Used extensively by farmers to ensure that seed, fertiliser and sprays are delivered in precise amounts while also making harvesting more efficient, GPS kits typically cost over £10,000.

“Rural thieves tend to target high-value but portable items - and this appears to be what is driving this rural crime trend.

“In an attempt to stop thieves targeting GPS kit, manufacturers now provide PIN numbers to prevent the equipment being used by others.

“Most GPS kit in use on farms today is fitted to tractors as an easily-removable accessory. To prevent thefts, farmers have been removing the kit when it’s not in use and storing it under lock and key.

“Some tractors now incorporate GPS kit in the cab dashboard. We had hoped that this development would deter thieves – but we are now getting claims reported where thieves have smashed dashboards to remove GPS equipment, causing damage costing thousands of pounds to repair as well as the loss of the GPS unit.

“This trend is deeply worrying for farmers who are investing in hi-tech equipment to make their farms more efficient and reduce pollution.”